The official forecast for those likely to seek asylum in Germany is about to revised up drastically to 750,000 this year from a prior estimate of 450,000, government sources have told Handelsblatt.
The estimate by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees will be presented on Wednesday by Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière.
The new figure is far higher than in the previous record year of 1992, which saw an outburst of violence against asylum-seekers especially in the former communist east, and is certain to sharpen the tone of a political debate raging in Berlin about how to handle the influx.
Last week, while visiting a converted police barracks in the Bavarian town of Deggendorf where 250 migrants are registered per day, Mr. de Maizière said “It’s a challenge but we’ll be able to cope.”
But since then, he’s been taking a tougher line, pointing out that cash payments to asylum seekers are as high as the monthly income of a police officer in Kosovo or Albania. He said applicants should be given more non-monetary support, and money payments should be reviewed in order to avoid giving people false incentives.
In the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg, a total of 7,065 people registered for asylum in July, more than twice as many as in May.
While thousands of asylum-seekers fleeing war in Syria and Iraq have good chances of being allowed to stay, most migrants from Kosovo, Albania or Macedonia are almost certain to be rejected because those countries are deemed safe.
Germany’s 16 regional states have reported a jump in the number of asylum-seekers over the summer, according to a Handelsblatt survey. In the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg, a total of 7,065 people registered for asylum in July, more than twice as many as in May. “I’d have to build a high-rise every day to accommodate them,” Bilkay Öney, the state’s integration minister, told Handelsblatt.
Barely a day goes by without the crisis making headlines in Germany, with reports of overflowing makeshift hostels and cities resorting to erecting tents to house refugees. Some 150 shelters have been attacked, damaged or destroyed this year - often by arsonists bent on keeping refugees from being sheltered in new quarters in their towns.
Many politicians fear that the issue is political dynamite. Ordinary Germans across the country will start feeling a direct impact once the school holidays end in the coming weeks when they find their children’s sports lessons have been cancelled because scores of sports halls have been turned into makeshift hostels.
Armin Schuster, a lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, visited a police station registering hundreds of new refugees per day in the southern town of Rosenheim and said conditions there were “unbelievable.”
“We’re very close to or have already reached the point where the local authorities, the regional states and the federal police are overstretched,” he warned.
He said many E.U. countries were letting refugees travel on to Germany rather than adhere to the E.U.’s so-called Dublin Regulation that states asylum claims must be handled in the country where migrants first arrive or first request protection. As the rules were being flouted, Germany should send asylum-seekers back to the E.U. countries from which they travelled, he said.
Mr. Schuster is no hardliner — if someone like him is making such demands, it’s a sign of how nervous politicians are getting about the refugee crisis. This is particularly true of the CDU, whose conservative voters are more sensitive to the issue than supporters of the center-left Social Democrats or the opposition Greens.
Ms. Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, and Mr. de Maizière will meet senior civil servants from the regional states next week to try to find solutions. They face tough negotiations about the distribution of costs and of refugees in Germany.
Experts estimate that the cost of housing, feeding, providing language training and other forms of help will more than double this year, in line with the number of refugees. Last year the total came to €2.2 billion, or $2.44 billion. This year, it could reach €5 billion.
The regional states are demanding more help from the central government and say the Berlin government must honor its pledge to speed up the asylum review procedures, especially for migrants from Balkan countries who have virtually no hope of being granted asylum, but who go on collecting benefits while their cases are reviewed — a factor that critics say is attracting them to Germany in the first place.
“We need very quick review procedures that are completed in just a few days,” said Ms. Öney, Baden-Württemberg’s integration minister. “Switzerland aims to get a decision within 48 hours.”
The federal government has pledged to provide €1 billion in support to regional states this year. The states say that’s not nearly enough.
“We expect costs of €568 million for Baden-Württemberg alone,” said Ms. Öney. “The promised help isn’t even a drop in the ocean. I want the central government to take over the initial processing, at least for people who have no prospect of being allowed to stay.”
She added that the federal police should take over the task of evicting asylum seekers whose requests have been rejected. The states can take care of integrating the refugees in the job market and housing them, she said.
The heated discussions underway between German cities, the states and the federal government are a microcosm of the E.U.-wide problem.
Ms. Merkel has called for a common European asylum policy and agrees with those who argue that the current system, based on the Dublin Convention signed in the Irish capital in 1990, doesn’t work anymore given that tens of thousands of migrants are crossing the Mediterranean and overwhelming the authorities in Italy and Greece.
The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said that more European countries need to do their bit.
"We have to spread the responsibility on more shoulders in Europe," he told German newspaper Die Welt, in remarks published on Tuesday.
"In the long term, it is not sustainable for only two E.U. countries - Germany and Sweden - to take in the majority of refugees with efficient asylum structures," he added.
Ms. Merkel also wants the European Union to agree on which countries constitute safe countries of origin. The European Commission is prepared to compile such a harmonized list. But that will take time.
Axel Voss, a member of the European Parliament for the CDU, said that without agreement on which countries are designated safe, “asylum-seekers will be able to play the E.U. states off against each other and always go to the country with the most generous immigration rules.”
Meanwhile, Mr. de Maizière’s idea of paying less cash may run into opposition from the country’s highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court, which has limited the scope for cutbacks.
And the Social Democrats, Ms. Merkel’s junior coalition partner, are likely to resist such a move as well.
“Of course it’s easy to say we’ll cut the asylum seekers’ pocket money. But that won’t do anything to solve the problem,” said Burkhard Lischka, an SPD lawmaker. Many asylum seekers are lured to Germany by traffickers who tell them lies about the opportunities here, said Mr. Lischka. “So €4.67 pocket money per day is unlikely to have much impact.”
Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines from Handelsblatt's Berlin office. Till Hoppe is Handelsblatt's foreign policy correspondent in Berlin. Frank Specht writes about the jobs market and labor unions from Handelsblatt's Berlin office. Ruth Berschens in Brussels contributed to this piece. To contact the authors: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]